The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre [sic] is a flash-in-the-pan effort: a grimy nerve-frayer that spends less time grinding up nubile flesh than it does shoving a camera into the bulging eye of its screaming Final Girl. Not even director Tobe Hooper tried to replicate its power; his weirdly brilliant 1986 sequel (penned by Paris, Texas co-scribe L.M. Kit Carson) swaps relentless intensity for relentless obnoxiousness. (It’s also one of the few narratives with no second act.) The 2003 Michael Bay-produced remake predictably faltered, as money is one thing you should never throw at the tale of a demented hick family whose patriarch is a hammer-wielding centenarian gargoyle.
The latest attempt to exhume the franchise fits it with a fancy extra dimension, allowing multiple iterations of Leatherface (Dan Yeager) sawing into the audience’s glasses. The more relevant modern alteration, though, has a trace of vaguely empathetic backstory. Segueing directly from a 3-D condensation of the 1974 original, this new entry negates previous sequels by having the murderous Sawyer family wiped out by a Molotov-hurling redneck mob. A baby girl survives. Jump to the present day, when she should be 39, but is instead a 20-something hottie with a permanently exposed midriff (Alexanda Daddario). Made aware of her lineage, she journeys back to her ancestral home with idiot friends in tow, where the massacre’s other surprise survivor—the one who wears peoples’ faces as masks—awaits.
The first half is slasher boilerplate; the rest is slightly more interesting than it has to be. The writers take a page from Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, turning the monster into the righteous victim and the alleged lawmen—nominally trying to rid the world of evil—into the new baddies. It doesn’t have the time to go deeper on this idea, having burned most of its length on comely youths getting dismembered. Nor does it make much sense, evidently forgetting to at least drop in one significant villain post-climax. Briefly turning Leatherface emo is, too, a dodgy idea, even if he hadn’t been introduced piercing hedonists with hooks or tearing off a nice policeman’s face. But given the basement-level expectations of being a picture released on the year’s traditionally pallid first week, something is indeed something.